Can Ancestry.com Claim Ownership of Your DNA Data?

A controversial article by a consumer protection attorney and former deputy attorney general of New Jersey has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Joel Winston published an article with the claim that the genealogy website Ancestry.com is “taking DNA ownership rights” from customers and their families. In other words, he says that Ancestry.com claims to own their customers’ personal DNA data.

Strong words, indeed. In fact, Mr. Winston’s assertions seem to be a bit far fetched.

Ancestry.com responded on the company’s DNA blog. Without mentioning Attorney Winston by name, Ancestry.com’s Chief Privacy Officer Eric Heath called Winston’s post “inflammatory and inaccurate.” Heath emphasized that Ancestry.com never takes ownership of customers’ DNA. Instead, the customers license the information to Ancestry DNA but the customers always retain ownership.

At first, ownership versus licensing appears to be a minor point, one that is of concern only to lawyers. However, after reading both sides of the issue, it appears that both parties believe the other party is mis-stating the facts.

I like the explanation on Snopes.com, a well-respected web site that specializes in correcting the lies and “urban legends” that seem to circulate frequently on the Internet. Snopes.com’s analysis of the controversy is written in plain, non-legalese, English. It points out there is a major difference between owning versus licensing.

For background information, you can read Attorney Joel Winston’s original article at: bit.ly/2qMkQrl. The rebuttal by Ancestry.com’s Chief Privacy Officer Eric Heath is available at: http://ancstry.me/2qe3dhx.

The legally binding AncestryDNA Terms and Conditions can be found at: https://www.ancestry.com/dna/en/legal/us/termsAndConditions.

If you manage to read through all of those articles, I then STRONGLY urge you to read the common-sense analysis by Snopes.com at http://www.snopes.com/ancestry-dna-steal-own.

As for me, I have no concerns about licensing my personal DNA information to anyone, especially to a genealogy organization. It strikes me that DNA is simply a fact, something that is not under my control. I didn’t ask for my DNA and I had no means of influencing or changing it. I am neither especially proud of or ashamed of my DNA. It is strictly a fact, the same as my fingerprints, my hair color, and the color of my eyes. There is nothing “magic” about my DNA information.

I will suggest, however, that you need to make up your own mind about your DNA information.

8 Comments

Also read Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, for her take on this article: http://www.legalgenealogist.com/2017/05/21/with-all-due-respect/

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Agreed. I was born with this DNA. It is not something that can be taken away from us leaving us without it. It could be borrowed, like the the cell line of Henrietta Lacks. It can be cloned or transplanted. Had I had a bone marrow transplant, I would have the DNA of my host in my blood…. So would I be eligible to vote twice? The only damage we could suffer would be if the Health Insurance industry used the “health indicator genes” to penalize the risky who were only born with the potential for illness. This is an action of birth, not demanding welfare. Birth shouldn’t be an insurance risk. Damn them for even thinking of it.

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I decided to submit my DNA to Ancestry because I feel the benefits far outweigh the risks. I have already had multiple confirmations of ancestors through distant cousins who shared their DNA and family trees on Ancestry. It helps corroborate sketchy 18th and 19th century records for those branches of my tree. However, if Ancestry decides to share the data in the future in a way that I disagree with, I will ask them to remove my records on their database. I chose to opt out of the optional DNA sharing because it is difficult to determine what might happen to my data once it leaves Ancestry. Anyone using this type of service should make their own decisions about how the data would be shared, of course, but to prevent us from having the service available would be wrong, in my opinion.

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As you said, Dick, Snopes seems to cover it well. Now what about the other major genealogy DNA services?

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    They vary in details but nobody I know of ever claims to “own” your DNA information. That would be silly. License it? Yes. You give permission to analyze an/or use your DNA information? Yes. But actually own it? I doubt it.

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I’m sure most people in the U.S. would not agree with me, but with people who support the “alt-right” as advisors in the White House, it is my opinion that it is not safe to make your DNA available to anyone. Just my opinion, but I feel not doing submitting DNA protects my children.

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In a time when almost ALL information about everyone is easily available – I am surprised that many now are fanatic about their personal privacy. Let’s face it – for all of the regulations, we really don’t have that anymore. I can’t think of any reason to not make my personal DNA available to anyone – I have nothing criminal to hide!!!!!

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It’s my spit, so I own it. Period, end of story. However, if I choose to allow “licensing” to a DNA testing company, and they share it for disease cure research, then we’re all better off.

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